DP Marine Energy’s Simon De Pietro on consenting process

Tidal Today talks to Simon De Pietro, Director, DP Marine Energy about project planning especially consenting and uncertainty on technology readiness.

By Ritesh Gupta on Oct 23, 2013

Any entity focused on construction and operation of a marine-based generating station needs to be clear with its strategy and development goals. A major aspect is streamlining site selection and reducing the length of the consenting process.

Can you provide an insight into lessons that your entity has learned about project planning especially consenting over the years?

Having come from an onshore wind development background it would be fair to say much of the experiences in tidal project planning have been similar to those of wind. However, there are of course differences between a wind turbine site you can drive up to and a tidal site - planning for weather windows is obviously more critical, and designing the surveys themselves is somewhat more challenging.

The biggest lessons we have learnt I would say are that coordination of surveys is much more critical to programme and to expect it to cost more and take longer.

Early and continuous consultation with statutory consultees and other users is essential to ensure all parties are informed as to the progress of the project and challenges to be faced. We adopted an open EIA approach with Marine Scotland for West Islay with interim meetings to discuss findings and design envelope etc. Whilst this adds to work load this seemed to work well and would recommend this approach. This also ensures that consenting scope and methods can be adapted as lessons are learnt from surveys.

What would you term as the most challenging aspect of project planning – would it be risk analysis or budget planning and time schedules?

Uncertainty on technology readiness, and the fact that as yet there is currently no definitive answer as to what is the best installation methodology has made planning the consent and future build out challenging.

Our strategy to mitigating this uncertainty was to adopt a technology neutral approach. For our EIA we adopted a wide design envelope albeit based on a defined turbine type - horizontal axis, open rotor combined with alternate foundation/structure designs from surface piercing or not, floating or fixed, gravity or pinned bases. Clearly undertaking a competent EIA with this flexibility requires a bigger budget on consenting and more discussion within the document in order to consider all the potential risks. The more complex the EIA the more risk of time slip and more risk of budget over run. However, we believe this is money well spent in ensuring a competent EIA and consent.

The most significant development risk identified at the preliminary review stage after technology is that of electrical grid availability although this is something our sites have in common with most other tidal energy developments. Projects programmes tend to be “anchored” to the date when export capacity has been agreed. However, these dates tend to slip due to a host of reasons. More focus needs to be applied to ensure that deep reinforcement programmes are delivered on schedule.

How do you assess the whole consenting process for tidal projects in the U. K.? To what extent do you think it is streamlined?

In a word, good. In Scotland, the introduction of Marine Licence and the establishment of Marine Scotland is streamlining the process and similarly in Northern Ireland with the recent establishment of Department of Environment, Marine Division we expect this to be the same. We understand that the original MS intention was that the Marine Licence could also include ‘deemed’ planning consent for the S37 Consent application for the grid connection works and this would further streamline the process. Whether that would in fact be beneficial we have mixed views, we have done a number of s37 previously for onshore wind without major issues and it may be that experience means we as a developer aren’t so intimidated by the prospect of dealing with grid as well as turbines.

And how is it dealing with the authorities for licencing pertaining to any tidal project in the U. K.?

Our experience in Scotland with West Islay and Northern Ireland with Fair Head has been very positive with the regulatory bodies open and available for discussion and rapid feedback on issues raised. Coming from a wind background - and still being a wind developer - which has been going for some 20 years I think there is a sense of enthusiasm and genuine excitement for the industry and that helps.

What according to you is key to searching a suitable location for the project?

Thinking about all the key factors on day one when looking at a project and then thinking about why the project should not go ahead every day after that.

Key factors are the obvious ones: Resource - or else there is no point in being there; Grid availability – or else there is nowhere to get rid of the power; Sea bed and Metocean conditions – or else you will not be able to install it or maintain it; Environmentally benign both ecologically and human – or else you will not (and should not) get a consent.

You obviously will not have all the answers to these on Day One, but you need to recognise where the biggest risks are and focus on them.

Also, what are your recommendations for site securing and obtaining of all pertinent permits?

Partner with a competent and experienced developer – only joking. Recommendations for securing sites in the UK is really a question for TCE since this is controlled by their leasing round and how that is rolled out. Our approach is to identify sites we think tick the boxes in terms of factors above and work towards delivering them. A good technical and management team with whatever external specialist support is considered necessary by the team is certainly key to success, followed by regular and effective communication with key stakeholders and regulators.

In relation to obtaining all pertinent permits ,our view is that Marine Scotland has developed an excellent permitting system, which appears to be standing up to the rigors of use, so go talk to them.